I finally managed– for the first time this year– to get some significant time to myself at a time when guitar stores are also open (I usually get my free time late at night when the kids are in bed). On saturday morning I went out to try some Teles for a few hours and also continued the search a little bit for 20 minutes at lunchtime today.
So over the last few days I have tried many Telecasters from the Squier Affinity ($180) to an Nash roadworn/reliced boutique version ($2000)
I think the run down would be
- Squier Affinity ($180): 3 different examples played.
- Squier Classic Vibe at ($350): 3 played
- Various Made in Mexico ‘MIM’ Teles at ($400…$500): 9 played
- American Special ($900): 1 played
- American Standard ($1000): 2 played
- American Deluxe ($1700): 1 played
- Nash Relicted Telecaster: 1 played
That’s 20 guitars in 4 stores.
I think the first thing to note is that the Affinity is terrible. On one of the guitars the bridge pickup didn’t work at all. The salesperson’s response was “yeah… well… what do you expect”. On the functioning guitars, they were totally playable, but the tone was thin and reedy. To me it didn’t sound like a Telecaster and indeed didn’t sound any better than my Traveler Speedster travel guitar, which has no body at all.
I had high hopes for the Squier Classic Vibe, but it too fell short. The three I played were all nice enough and a big step up from the Affinity, but there just felt something lacking in the tone department when I played them against other more expensive guitars. And at nearly the same price as a MIM then I can’t see how these are a good deal.
At the high end. the roadworn Nash— a new, handcrafted, made in USA, boutique guitar that has been lovingly distressed to look like it has been gigged since the 1950s– felt great to play, but I just really don’t dig all this artificial wear and tear business. Dings don’t bother me, but I’d like guitars to earn that look. Also far too expensive of course.
It’s when comparing the American made Fenders and the Mexican made MIM Fenders that things get interesting.
The US made guitars were uniformly great. I actually played one American Standard straight after an Affinity and the difference was so extreme I nearly passed out. On the US guitars everything just feels right and sounds right. It is easy to fret a note, your hand skims up and down the neck and the sound is just perfect. They are wonderful instruments.
The MIM Standards and FSR (Factory Special Run) guitars I played where highly variable. Some of them had poor setups, high actions and lacked oomph in the tone department. But others were a joy and rivalled the Americans. At one point I had myself set up with one of these ‘good’ MIM guitars and an American Special. I had both their volume and tone pots on circa 75%, middle pickup selector position (both neck and bridge on) and I swapped backwards and forwards between them, keeping the amp with the exact same settings. When playing, just judging with my ears and my fingers, I couldn’t really tell a difference. If I looked closely I could discern things like the America neck was slightly more comfortable (rounded fingerboard edges and fret ends) and the finish definitely looked nicer, but as a guitar to play, at least for me, the MIM was its equal.
So I’ve discovered a MIM will be good enough for me. I’m going to try and find a deal on Craiglist, but if none pop up, then I’ll probably buy a new one around my birthday in the summer.